The Party Isn’t Over

The Parties: Republicans and Democrats in This Century

by Henry Fairlie
St. Martin’s, 236 pp., $8.95

Not to know of [Robert] Taft—not to let him into one’s mind, into one’s very bones, even if it is only then to expel him—is not to live and breathe the politics of America in this century, and not to have one’s being in it. [The Parties, p. 77]

It is difficult for any man to look serious while prescribing for all Americans a Robert Taft bone-implant. And it does not help to permit a subsequent Taftectomy. Fairlie does not improve things when he divides his book into elephant and donkey sections. The symbols are flogged with relentless cuteness. In fact, animal similes turn the book into a mad little animal farm. When the Republicans are not elephants (usually with two broken tusks), they resemble dead fish afloat; their candidates are horses from Caligula’s stable. Journalists are birds twigged with the lime of a phrase (he says this!). Roosevelt’s cabinet was a team of horses marvelously driven. Readers in the Library of Congress are grazing deer. Dewey was the runt of a litter, none of which deserved survival—but Dewey least of all:

They had picked a loser, and they stuck to the runt. It would have been a great deal better if, like a sow, they had just rolled over on the wretched creature. But instead they suckled him. Was ever a drying teat offered to such an undeserving mouth?

The analysis (indeed, the grammar) is on a level with this imagery. Fairlie, an Englishman, loves “old politics” of the machine sort—repeatedly praised as “rough and tumble.” He hates the “lavender” effetes of either party who refuse to tumble roughly—sissies like Stassen and Scranton, Adlai and Gene. Al Smith, Roosevelt, and Truman are the Fairlie heroes, and much of the book pits against their idealized portraits furious caricatures of everyone else. Feeling sorry for Nelson Rockefeller was not a knack I had acquired until I read Fairlie’s pages of impassioned vituperation:

So one turns to the most lackluster of them all: to the man who throughout the whole period has been perhaps the most ineffably incompetent politician on the national scene, the All Star of Born Losers, the black hole of the Republican universe into which astronomers gaze wondering if there can be such a thing as absolute nothingness, the leader who did not have to be buried in 1976 because he had self-destructed so often, the most dishevelled of them all, Nelson Rockefeller. It appears from the first pictures from Mars that there is no life on the planet: not in the sense of someone like a person walking about on its surface. But we must consider that if a spacecraft landed on our own Earth, and showed pictures only of Nelson Rockefeller, we might not recognize it as life. If in an earlier age his disembowelment had been ordered, he would probably at once have been declared a saint by his bewildered torturers when they discovered that …

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Letters

Hyperopia October 26, 1978